Advaita Vision


Advaita for the 21st Century

Questions and Answers
Dennis Waite

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How to Meet Yourself cover   The Book of One cover  Back to the Truth cover  Enlightenment: the path through the jungle

Read extracts from and purchase my books: For beginners to Advaita - 'How to Meet Yourself (and find true happiness);
For intermediate Advaita students - 'The Book of One';
For advanced students - 'Back to the Truth: 5000 Years of Advaita'.
For a comparison of teaching methods in Advaita - 'Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle' .


Q. When a person overcomes ignorance and realizes there is only One, I think this is understood by the feelings/senses. What happens when this person dies? Can he still feel/sense that only One exists and nothing else. If so, how is it possible? Is this because in order to feel/sense, an individual self should exist? Let me exemplify - do the Buddha, Sri Krishna, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Marharshi still feel Oneness?

A. You have to differentiate between empirical and absolute reality. At the level of the world, a person is born and dies. Traditionally, if the person does not become enlightened, he accumulates karma according to his actions and the net result determines what form and position he will take in a next life. If he does become enlightened, no further karma accumulates and, when the present karma is exhausted, he dies and is not born again.

However, from the standpoint of absolute reality, there is no person. No one is born and no one dies. There is only brahman, forever unchanging, perfect and complete.

Feelings, perceptions, thoughts, all require a body-mind. When the body dies, the brain dies too. You, as the Consciousness in which the forms arise, remain unchanged. The Buddha, Ramana Maharshi, etc., as persons, died when their bodies died. Their teaching remains. Consciousness was never affected by their birth or their death or their enlightenment.

Q. Everything we understand/conceive we do by our mind/intellect. What is the value of understanding/feeling the Oneness if death engulfs, and that after death, there is no one to understand/feel Oneness. Even in deep sleep, we do not know/feel who we are. So I conclude, only He understands/feels Himself because He alone is living/being. All writings are, ultimately, bogus/nonsense.

A. Nothing is born; nothing dies in reality. The body is formed from the food we eat and eventually becomes food for worms. It was, is and will be only matter - but even that is brahman. There is only brahman. The world is brahman. Consciousness is brahman. You are brahman.

If you feel that believing that you are the body and that you will die is better than knowing that what is said above is the truth, then yes, there is no value in understanding the Oneness and all writings are nonsense. You decide.


Q. Advaita talks about the process whereby objectless Consciousness wants to experience itself as objective and limited awareness. This is what Greg Goode talks about in his 'standing as awareness' and what one Chinmaya student-teacher implied. But after doing Greg's exercise, I find it fascinating that the subject cannot be located and everything is just awareness - even emotions and thoughts - because if I can locate the subject, in which many believe is in the brain, then it becomes a subject. The changes in my life so far are that I find myself judging less, and seeing things clearly as form, hearing and sensations.

Previously, I was taught that if I can observe the mind, body, intellect, etc., then it is not me. But now if I can even find the subject, what I can see, hear, sense is awareness itself, and hence, no single witness point but plain awareness.

Do you happen to know if David Godman and Byron Katie's work are similar to the introspective aspect of jnana yoga?

A. The idea of Consciousness �wanting to experience itself� is just an intermediate story to help understanding.

David Godman is an excellent writer on Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi�s teaching. He is not a teacher in his own right. I don�t know anything about Byron Katie�s work except that it is not advaita.

Q. I was reading your The Book of One, and found it to be interesting and thought provoking. I asked about Byron Katie because I saw her as one of the lineage links in your website. I was wondering if her four-question process of questioning any limited thought is useful in applying viveka in practical terms, for example, concerning the belief that people should be nice:

  1. Is it true/do I know if it is absolutely true?
  2. What do I feel or think about with this thought?
  3. What would I be without this thought?
  4. Turn the belief around: people should not be nice if they don't want to be, etc.

I am trying to use the intellect to tackle life problems but find it hard to relate to scripture. I keep having to remind myself, for example, to eat for the Lord but instead end up strengthening doership. One swami said to do nama japa when doing everyday activities to strengthen focus, but it can be very distracting.

A. Byron Katie is only mentioned once on the site in connection with the book The Awakening West by Lynn Marie Lumiere. As far as I know, she has little to do with advaita but I haven�t read any of her work so I can�t really comment on her teaching.

Viveka is not something that can be taught like mathematics � there is no logical formula that can be applied to ensure that you make good decisions. Viveka is something that is developed as a result of cultivating such qualities as dispassion, unselfishness, stillness of mind, and so on. As the mind develops such qualities, it is also naturally able to exercise viveka more effectively.

I do not see that the practice of japa, whilst giving attention to a task, can be particularly helpful. I would say that simply letting the attention rest on the place where the work is taking place and not giving any attention to thoughts in the mind is the optimum way of performing karma yoga.

Q. Thanks for explaining karma yoga. If I can get to the point of focussing on the task or my duty without the ego coming in to exert doership, I guess I am on the right track. Does this mean anything can be done in the spirit of karma yoga? How do I discern if I am really doing something for the Lord or my own selfish needs? If I merely observe the act of doing things, can I temporarily remove the idea of doership, since if I can observe 'myself doing' something, I cannot be the doer doing it! Or should I be so focussed with the task that I lose myself in it, but which can strengthen the desire to do the task again?

A. �Doing� anything, including japa, will never lead to enlightenment. (I use the word �enlightenment� rather than �liberation� because you are already �free�.) Only Self-knowledge will remove Self-ignorance. So if you do not have access to a qualified teacher, reading (including listening to or watching recordings), reflection and discussion are the next best.

Karma yoga is doing something because it needs to be done, not for yourself or another person. Dedicating your action to the Lord is bhakti yoga. If you are giving your complete attention to the task, you will not have any space for anything else. But this is not at all the same as getting lost in an action, such as playing a computer game, for example, where you are identified with the character in the game.

Q. Thanks for the clarification. I guess even for other 'paths' like Zen and Sufism, it is still knowledge that leads to enlightenment but according to what I know so far, Traditional Advaita is one of the most systemic ways to do it. I have read the writings of Bodhidharma and Huang Po and was confused by them until Chinmaya's teachings clarified concepts like there is no such buddha or dharma, etc.

In The Book of One, you said an enlightened master can have 'unenlightening' traits and you quote from Osho and seem to regard him as enlightened in your book. But if his later actions 'caused' others to 'sin' (encouraging free sex, even with children) does this mean Osho was never enlightened but only close to enlightenment? Dr. David Hawkins (considered enlightened by many) claimed Osho 'fell' from a high consciousness to a low one.

A. As I have answered more fully in questions from others, one can be enlightened (a �j~nAnI�), without also being a jIvanmukta. Such a one could indeed behave in ways deemed not to be representative of someone enlightened. Osho is almost certainly a good example of this. Such a person might be a very good teacher, but seekers obviously need to be wary of being seduced into inappropriate behavior themselves. Such people are often also charismatic and can exert tremendous influence over the vulnerable.

Coincidentally, I have just written to a friend earlier today on the subject of Osho. Here is what I said:

'There are certainly many who denounce him as fraudulent, dangerous, manipulative, exhibitionist, narcissistic, etc. And his life and lifestyle tend to support this. And one could reasonably claim that there is 'no smoke without fire'. However, much of what has been written along these lines has been written without the benefit of any familiarity with his teaching. Also, if you investigate into the lives of a number of well-known teachers, you can unearth the unsavory without too much difficulty. Most of those, however, were not so much in the public eye as Osho became for whatever reasons. Even so, you have the reported indiscretions of someone who was as respected as Ramesh Balsekar and even Vivekananda. You might be interested in a book called Stripping the Gurus, which denounces many, including Osho.

'However, I tend to accept that one can be a j~nAnI yet still suffer from bad habits! And I tend to be more interested in what someone teaches rather than what they do when they are not teaching. I agree that one cannot simply ignore that, and there may well come a point where one cannot reconcile someone's behavior with what they purport to teach. But, regarding someone like Osho, we have little to go on apart from, on the one hand, scurrilous reports (often apocryphal and usually at least second hand) about the way he behaved and, on the other, the many books of his talks and discourses. Have you read any? The Mustard Seed, a discourse on the Gospel According to St. Thomas, is one I would particularly recommend. Read it and then see if you are still happy to denounce him. I think you will be very surprised. It is readable, entertaining but also extremely perceptive and informative.

'Incidentally, I am currently reading a book due for publication later in the year probably, called Three Dangerous Magi, about Crowley, Gurdjieff and Osho. It is written by someone who spent several years with Osho - Philip Mistlberger - and whose book A Natural Awakening I highly recommend.'

Q. When you say a j~nAnI, do you mean an enlightened person who who may have 'bad' habits? Does a j~nAnI suffer from his 'bad' influence and, after physical death, does he come back as another person to 'pay' for his'misdeeds'? But if he is enlightened, there is no reincarnation for him?

I was reading the kaThopaniShad - it says that the intellect cannot attain the Self but I know that only the intellect (which you call 'mind' in your book, Enlightenment: The Path through the Jungle) can gain knowledge if the Self dispels ignorance (this is what Chinmaya taught me). Am I misreading anything here?

A. Someone who has realized the Self but is not a jIvanmukta may indeed still suffer to some degree but they also know that it is not their real Self that is suffering, only the body-mind. If the mind was insufficiently prepared, it will still be subject to desires and fears and satisfaction or denial of these will cause some discomfort. But a j~nAnI does not incur AgAmin saMskAra so that, once the prArabdha is exhausted (in this life), there is no rebirth. The existing saMskAra that had not yet matured is �burnt up� on enlightenment.

The intellect or mind does not �attain� anything. But it is the mind of the person that gains the Self-knowledge that �who-I-really-am� was, is and always will be free.

Q. Is it more realistic to strive for spiritual purification by becoming a j~nAnI rather than a jIvanmukti? I am finding it challenging to seek! Firstly, after deciding to seek, my health has turned worse and it seems the ego does not want this path and is 'using' the body to react. Also, I am losing interest in life and hobbies, which is scary as I had clinical depression and did not want to worsen anything.

A. The best way is to combine shravaNa (listening to the teachings with a good teacher) with spiritual practices. If one does this, then it is possible to become a j~nAnI and a jIvanmukta simultaneously. This is the ideal. It is certainly natural that, as one becomes more involved with this serious work, one loses interest in the mundane aspects of life. It is the natural progression of more worthwhile desires supplanting the more trivial. Don�t get hung about the ego � it would only be the ego doing that after all!

If you want to ask a question, and do not object to its being included in this section, please email me.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012